Have the trolls of the Internet actually done something good? Well, that depends on how you feel about feminism. Looking at the recent case of Anita Sarkeesian, a blogger/lobbyist for the feminist agenda, it seems that the trolls unintentionally did her, and her cause, $158,000 worth of good. But is this a good thing?It’s a complicated story
Sarkeesian, who runs the blog Feminist Frequency, recently posted a solicitation for funding on Kickstarter.com, a popular site where underfunded inventors and activists post videos asking for money from interested donors. She was looking to fund a venture she titled, “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games,” which would be a five-part video series savaging the stereotypes associated with female characters in gaming, be it the damsels in distress or the big-breasted asskickers in thigh-high boots. Both of these cliches, as Sarkeesian sees it, are not merely eye-rolling annoyances to the female population at large, but actually harmful to the psyche of girl and boy gamers alike. Hoping to raise $6000, a relatively small sum as far as Kickstarter solicitations go, she likely would have achieved it with little fanfare, had it not been for the attention of the trolls.
“Trolls” are the moniker given to the faceless masses of the Internet who hide behind anonymous screen names and post hateful comments on social interaction sites for the sake of eliciting reaction. In this case, the trolls seem to have taken Sarkeesian’s project personally. In the span of a few hours, her posting was overrun with hundreds of vile, hate-filled invectives, some of the worst this reporter has ever read. Postings ran from the garden variety “Tits or GTFO” to the more personal attacks, labelling her as a “bolshevik feminist jewess” and hoping that everyone who gives her money “gets raped and dies of cancer.”
Whether the trolls, commenting via a Youtube video, spurred on the donations or the donations spurred on the trolls, the two seemed to work in tandem and resulted in a final tally of $158,922, roughly 26 times the amount of money she asked for in the first place. As a result of the surprising windfall, Sarkeesian has been able to quit her day job in order to focus on her website, public speaking engagements, and her video series. Also, she has brought in a full-time producer and purchased several hundred video games on a myriad of platforms from PS3 to Xbox to computer-based RPG’s. She even declared an intent to get a 3DS XL (new handheld gaming platform from Nintendo) when they came out. And that’s where the weirdness is for me.
I emailed Anita in an attempt to get some clarity with this whole thing, but as of this story going to press, I have not heard from her. I guess she’s busy playing all those video games the Internet bought her. Granted, there is no filter on Kickstarter that cuts off funding when a solicitor has achieved their desired goal, and she is certainly entitled to keep all of the money that donors want to impart to her, but somehow I cannot wrap my mind around all of this. It seems ignoble somehow that she should profit off the benefactors, several of whom on her message boards admitted that they were giving her money because of the things the trolls had done. In my email, I asked her what she intended to do with the video games once she was done with her project. Keeping them would be selfish (right?), destroying them would be wasteful, and giving them away or selling them would be counter to the message she seeks to impart with her video series. It’s even a little weird that she would buy all those games, thereby funding the very institution that she rails against. Why not just research the games online and rent the worst offenders to use as demonstration in the video? I don’t necessarily have an issue with the project itself, as Dan Pearson, in an interview with Sarkeesian for Games Industry magazine states that “exact numbers vary, depending on who you listen to, but it’s widely accepted that somewhere between 30 and 45 per cent of all gamers are female, with many titles counting women of various age-groups as their most profitable demographic.” Certainly, girls are entitled to strong role models in gaming as much as boys are, but what is the statement being made by all of this? Are people truly so passionate about feminism and the liberties taken with damsels and vixens in video games, or did the other side of the Internet just decide to take a defensive stand against the bullies, allowing Sarkeesian to end up with the greatest early Christmas gift a gamer could want?
I would love to know what Sarkeesian thinks of Lara Croft, the female protagonist of the hugely popular Tomb Raider series. Sure, she wears hot pants and has a bust-to-torso ratio that would make Barbie jealous, but she’s a strong, independent, woman with her own business (even if Tomb Raiding seems likely illegal) and no male figurehead upon whom she depends. Is that the feminist ideal? Most telling of Sarkeesian’s vision are the stickers she would gift to anyone on Kickstarter who donated $50 or more. In them, she has redesigned the popular game characters of “Zelda” from the “The Legend of Zelda” and “Princess Peach” from Super Mario Brothers to exemplify what Sarkeesian feels are more appropriate representations of how the characters should appear. Both have strongly undefined, masculine body types and Peach wears formless overalls with hiking boots. This, to me, runs diametrically opposite of what the trolls seem to encompass, what with their cries to leave the games how they are now. That’s gotta be bad for the game designer’s bottom line. In my mind, women can have compelling story arcs and not just be background fodder or arm candy for the male character, and they can even look good doing it. But maybe I am just a sort-of troll myself — one who writes in longform?